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The Edinburgh of Insp. John Rebus has more than its share of violent crimes involving drugs and gangs, but there's always another layer of institutional vice and corruption. As Rebus says, "[W]e spend most of our time chasing something called 'the underworld,' but it's the overworld we should really be keeping an eye on." In Edgar-winner Rankin's 15th novel to feature the moody, dogged detective (after 2004's A Question of Blood), a Kurdish refugee's death in a dreary housing estate leads Rebus into a labyrinthine plot involving a modern-day version of the slave trade. As has been the trend in recent Rebus novels, colleague Siobhan Clarke assumes a more central role, this time investigating the disappearance of the sister of a rape victim who later committed suicide. These mysteries begin to intertwine when Rebus and Clarke are called to a pub on Fleshmarket Close where two skeletons have been exhumed. As always, Rankin is deft with characterization and wit, but here he juggles too many narrative balls. The story lines are slow to gestate, and their complexity undermines the book's momentum. Still, Rebus remains one of the more compelling characters in crime fiction—and Rebus's Edinburgh one of the more compelling settings.
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*Starred Review* Edinburgh copper John Rebus has spent his life mucking about among the city's lowlifes, so much so that he often feels more kinship with the crooks he chases than he does with the new generation of cookie-cutter organization men and women who inhabit the more respectable tiers of Scottish society. His hard-won assumptions about the world are transformed, however, by his latest case, forcing Rebus, the hardest of hardened cynics, to exclaim in horror, "What in Christ's name is happening here?" It starts with the murder of an "asylum-seeker"--an illegal immigrant hoping to be granted political asylum but forced to live in a virtual prison while the lumbering Scottish bureaucracy determines his fate. As Rebus begins to dig into the murder, he is confronted by the new face of racism, twenty-first-century style: a government, unwilling to deal with the immigration problem, outsourcing "detention housing" to American prison-for-profit companies; a citizenry determined "to alienate what they cannot understand"; and a criminal underworld quick to capitalize on opportunity by entering the booming business of "people smuggling." All of these forces come together in an Edinburgh public-housing project, where racial tensions are at the breaking point, and where the people-smuggling industry thrives. Rankin, who has spent years developing Rebus' hard-bitten character, now brilliantly portrays the man forced to confront his own sensitivity. This is a superb crime novel, a pivotal entry in a uniformly fascinating series, and a remarkably perceptive analysis of the contemporary immigration dilemma at its most achingly human level. Bill Ott
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